Every voice counts (Daf Yomi Pesachim 17)

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What difference is there to me.”

There appears to be a rumble today between Rav and the priests concerning the level of impurity associated with a dead creeping animal. My first question is why someone would be carrying a dead creeping animal in his garment in the first place.  We were told yesterday that it is because it is a way of avoiding contamination with one’s hands. But there is a better solution. Why not just leave the creeper where one found it? Why pick it up at all?

But that is where the Talmud takes us today. Afterall, there appears to be more to say about impurity. Can a dead creeping animal carried in one’s robes transfer impurity to anything that touches it? The example of bread, stew, wine, and oil is provided. If the creeping animal comes into contact with these items, do they become impure? The prophet Haggai, who makes an encore appearance in today’s reading, quotes an unnamed chorus of priests, and says, “no”, there is no onward transmission of impurity. I am left wondering how these food stuffs would come into contact with the dead creeping animal which for some reason is hidden in one’s clothes. And can I just say, this is not the most pleasant topic to write about.

Here is where the rabbinic version of a street fight comes in: Rav unequivocally disagrees with the priests. He calls them out and says they erred, as the substances under discussion, meat, stew, wine and oil, all become ritually impure if they come in contact with dead creeping animals. He questions their entire authority to make such determinations. The Gemara, in trying to explain the difference of opinion, tells us that Rav was referring to the liquids associated with slaughtered offerings in the slaughterhouse, such as blood and water, which cannot become ritually impure. However, we are told that Rav would agree that the liquids associated with the chamber of the alter, such as wine and oil, can in fact become ritually impure. The difference of opinion is explained by considering the difference between the two scenarios and a bridge is built between the opinions of the sage and the priests.

But not so fast. Shmuel enters the debate. We are presented with another scenario that results in a disagreement. If bread comes into contact with a dead creeping animal that is being carried inside one’s garments (again, why?), it is conferred with first degree impurity status. If stew comes into contact with the bread, it is conferred with second degree impurity status and if wine comes into contact with the stew, it is conferred with third degree status. So, far, all seems logical. But the question arises about fourth degree status. What if oil comes into contact with the wine? The priests claim the oil is pure.

This is beginning to feel like a super-spreader event, with one person who is a silent carrier of COVID-19 spreading it to others, who infect others, who in turn infect a new group of people, and so on down the line. Shmuel appears to agree with the priests in their logic that oil is free from impurity. It has to do with how the string of infection occurs, but according to Shmuel, the bread came into contact with the impure garment rather than the dead creeping animal, which meant it had a case of second rather than first degree impurity. This means that the stew had third degree impurity and the wine had fourth degree impurity, and since there is no allowance for fifth degree impurity, the oil is left untainted. In essence, Shmuel is saying that the priests did not outright err, but instead their count was off.

The Talmud today goes to great lengths to explain differences of opinion. The lessons all along from reading the Talmud each day is that people can live peacefully and respectfully in diverse communities where there are a variety of opinions. I am trying really hard to listen to my friends who hold very different opinions from me. And although at times I find their opinions difficult to understand, I love them nonetheless and will go to my grave believing that every voice needs to be heard and every opinion counts.


About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at https://brokentabletsfrompennycagan.me
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